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It's true: iPads are starting to replace business PCs

Apple continues to clobber its competition in the tablet market

Apple continues to clobber its competition in the tablet market, and the new iPad is only going to make matters worse for rivals like Samsung. But it's not just other tablet makers that are taking significant hits delivered by the iPad. A new survey of business users by ChangeWave Research found that nearly one-third of the companies expecting to buy tablets in the next few months are using them as replacements for PCs for at least some users. Visit: New iPad review.

What's more, the penetration of tablets into the enterprise, a major piece of what's being called the consumerization of IT, is speeding up. Twenty-two percent of the businesses surveyed expect to buy a tablet soon, and the only reason that number isn't three or four points higher is that Apple didn't announce the third-generation iPad until a month after the survey was conducted, says Paul Carton, ChangeWave's director of research.

The survey, conducted last month, is yet another confirmation that no company comes close to matching the iPad in the enterprise. Indeed, the iPad wannabes are barely on the radar. While 84 percent of the companies that plan to buy a tablet in the next quarter said they will go with Apple's iPad, up from 77 percent in November, just 8 percent said they will buy one from the No. 2 brand, Samsung, compared to 10 percent in the previous survey.

But Samsung, a highly diversified company, can better withstand a poor showing in the tablet market than can Hewlett-Packard and Dell. "Those companies need to win a toehold in tablets as PCs become less important, and they're not doing it," Carton says. "We're very bearish on them."

Dell has so little traction (3 percent) that it actually trails HP (at 4 percent), even though HP is no longer in the tablet market. Also, zombielike RIM, which once dominated the business smartphone market with the BlackBerry, lost a couple of points and now holds a tiny 3 percent piece of the tablet market with its poorly reviewed BlackBerry PlayBook.

Android tablets are doing better as a consumer contender

Although Apple owns the tablet market in business, that's not at all the case on the consumer side. IDC, in a study released this week, found that in the last quarter of 2011, Apple's iPad led in terms of shipments with a share of 54.7 percent, almost exactly 10 points higher than that of tablets running on Google's Android OS -- a winning but not overwhelming hand. It's important to keep in mind that IDC reports units shipped, not units sold. Apple reports units sold to people, whereas most of its competitors report only how many they sent to stores, not how many ended up with buyers. Thus, IDC'sAndroid figures are inflated in terms of actual user adoption.

Furthermore, a big part of Android's success in IDC's shipment figures, of course, was a very strong debut by Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, which runs a customized version of Android. Amazon.com sold 4.7 million of the 7-inch tablets during the quarter, compared to Apple's sales of 15.4 million units. Given how weak everyone but Apple is on the business side, Amazon.com's third-ranking, 6 percent share in the enterprise almost looks respectable.

IDC's numbers do not give a breakdown by type of buyer, but Tom Mainelli, who runs the research company's Mobile Connected Devices group, says the ChangeWave survey tracks with his impressions of the market. "At the end of 2011 we interviewed enterprises and was shocked by the high percentage of enterprise IT buyers who said were eyeing large-scale rollouts of [iPads]," he told me.

Mainelli believed the business market was "RIM's to lose" -- and it did. The IDC survey found that its worldwide share (for business and individual buyers combined) had dipped below 1 percent.
Why the iPad owns the enterprise?Apple has enormous brand equity and garners unmatched publicity when it launches an important new product, a point too obvious to belabor. Although that certainly gives Apple a running start on competition in business, it doesn't entirely explain its huge lead.

The answer, says ChangeWave's Carton, has to do with how tablets are used in business. According to his company's survey, 73 percent use tablets for email and general Internet use, 67 percent for working while away from the office, 41 percent for sales, and 38 percent for making customer presentations. And -- surprisingly -- 32 percent use it as a PC replacement.

None of the other tablets in the market offer such broad business functionality. Until they do, they don't stand a chance. That calls into question the potential strength of Windows 8. Microsoft's next-generation operating system has so far met with mixed (to put the best face on it) reviews. My colleague J. Peter Bruzzese, in a widely quoted piece, dubbed the OS "Windows Frankenstein" because it's such an ungainly melding of desktop and tablet interfaces and functionality.

It could be that the tablet-friendly Metro interface, plus Microsoft's very deep bench of developers, will result in products that businesses will like. If not, Microsoft will still be hunting for a way to cope with the slow, steady erosion of the PC business -- and follow the downward path RIM has taken.

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